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Lush landscapes, historic sites, engaging festivals

Pakistan welcomes the world with top travel ratings from Conde Nast Traveller and Forbes.

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Hunza Valley is popular with tourists. In 2018, the British Backpacker Society ranked Pakistan the world's top adventure travel destination "with mountain scenery that is beyond anyone's wildest imagination".

SINGAPOREANS looking for a new and exotic travel destination may want to consider Pakistan for their future travel plans as the country with a colourful and rich history offers a wide variety of opportunities. Its offerings range from exotic food, old fashioned bazaars and heritage sites to picturesque natural beauty right across the country from the beaches in the commercial capital city of Karachi in the south to the lofty snow covered Himalayan peaks in the north.

What can be even more exciting for a Singaporean visitor to Pakistan is that your Singapore money multiplies over a hundred times when converted to the Pakistani rupee giving you great value when spending on food, travel, stay, entertainment and shopping in the country. (S$1 = Pak Rs 111)

The new government of Prime Minister Imran Khan is paying special attention to promoting the tourism sector in the country in view of its vast potential. Pakistan estimates its tourism figure to have reached about two million last year, though a sizeable part consists of domestic tourism. The increase in tourism has been helped by the improving security situation in the country.

According to the World Travel and Tourism Council, Pakistan's earnings from tourism are set to nearly double from US$22 billion in 2017 to nearly US$40 billion by 2028.

Pakistan's new Deputy High Commissioner in Singapore Farhana Asif highlights that her country has introduced a new liberal visa regime as part of its efforts to boost tourism. The Pakistan Online Visa System is now open for the citizens of 175 countries. In addition, citizens from 95 countries are eligible to apply for Visa on Arrival under the Business category for which they only need to obtain Electronic Travel Authorization (ETA) 48 to 72 hours prior to their travel. Singapore nationals can apply for their visa online at https://visa.nadra.gov.pk/ or call 6737-6988 for information regarding visa processing.

"About 3,000 Singaporeans visit Pakistan annually for business or recreational purposes and we expect this number to go up," Ms Asif told The Business Times.

"At present, the air routes via Thailand, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, UAE and Qatar are available for travellers. Meanwhile, resumption of direct air links between Pakistan and Singapore is part of the Mission's agenda."

With its unique geographical and natural diversity ranging from snow clad mountains, lush green plains, vast deserts to splendid beaches, Pakistan has great things to offer to tourists and adventurers. Trekking, mountaineering, white water rafting, wild boar hunting, mountain and desert jeep safaris, camel and yak safaris, trout fishing and bird watching are a few of the wide variety of activities which entice the adventure and nature lovers to the country.

Pakistan's efforts on rebranding the diverse nature and rich cultural heritage of the country that had been scarcely explored previously have begun to show results as there has been an improvement in its image as a favoured tourism destination. For instance, Conde Nast Traveller has ranked Pakistan as the "No 1" tourist destination.

Similarly, the recent high profile royal visit by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge has helped to improve Pakistan's international image. The improved security situation coupled with the ease in visa processing has led to some foreign governments relaxing their travel advisories for Pakistan. The positive feedback can be seen on social media in comments by bloggers who share their experiences of visiting beautiful places in Pakistan.

Interestingly in 2018, the British Backpacker Society ranked Pakistan as the world's top adventure travel destination, describing the country as "one of the friendliest countries on earth, with mountain scenery that is beyond anyone's wildest imagination."

Forbes ranked Pakistan as one of the "coolest places" to visit in 2019. The World Economic Forum's Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Report placed Pakistan in the top 25 per cent of global destinations for its World Heritage sites, which range from the mangroves in the Indus delta, to the remnants of the Indus valley civilization including Mohenjo-daro and Harappa. Pakistan has six Unesco World Heritage sites and 26 more on a tentative list.

Besides the nature and historical sites which are so integral to modern Pakistan, its urban centers like Lahore, Islamabad and Karachi have a distinct aura with high rise buildings, malls and large commercial centres, famous food streets and museums boasting the rich cultural history of Pakistan.

Moreover, the religious sites of Hindus and Sikhs have become an added source of attraction for pilgrims helping to promote religious tourism in Pakistan. Old Hindu and Sikh temples, mainly the shrine of Guru Nanak, visited by thousands increased manifold with the opening of the Kartarpur Sahib Corridor in November 2019. It links Dera Baba Sahib in Gurdaspur in India and Gurdwara Kartarpur Sahib in Pakistan. It was opened for the first time for the Sikh pilgrims for the 550th birth anniversary of Baba Guru Nanak, the founder of the Sikh religion who spent most of his life in areas that constitute Pakistan today.

Mountaineering is another attraction of Pakistan. It is among the countries with the largest concentration of highest peaks of the world, including five peaks of over 8,000 meters, 29 peaks of over 7,500 meters and 121 peaks of over 7,000 meters. The five peaks above 8,000 meters are K-2, (8,611 meters) the second-highest peak in the world, Nanga Parbat (8,125 m), Broad Peak (8,047 m), Gasherbrum-I (8,065 m) and Gasherbrum-II (8,035 m).

The northern area of Pakistan is the culmination point for three great mountain ranges of the world: Karakoram, Himalaya and Hindukush. One of the remarkable things about the Himalaya in Pakistan is its greenery that offers a contrast to the aridity of Karakoram and Hindukush further north. The Himalaya has a considerably higher precipitation level during the monsoon months creating the environment for rich pine forests and grassy meadows. The splendid beauty of Nanga Parbat in the Himalaya range keeps the star gazers in a sense of awe and wonder.

The Karakoram range is famous for the second highest peak in the world (K2) and glaciers that are a special focus of attention for travellers all over the world. Devoid of any pollution in the surrounding environment these are wonderful trekking locations. Apart from adding to the scenic beauty of Pakistan, the glaciers play an important role in balancing the climatic conditions that would have otherwise been extremely hot. The top 10 glaciers include Siachin, Batura, Hispar, Biafo and Baltoro.

More than hundred peaks are open for mountaineering in Pakistan offering a wide range for every kind of climber, from amateurs to top professionals inviting them to take the daunting challenge of climbing them. Several tourist companies such as Alpine Club, The Adventure Club, Hunza Adventure Tours, and Concordia Expeditions have been facilitating 40 to 50 mountaineering expeditions each year and helping them in completion of formalities.

The traditional and cultural festivals of Pakistan are some of the other reasons to visit Pakistan. The country boasts of folk festivals like urs (the celebration of festivals at the shrines of legendary mystics). In addition, the colourful celebration of the seasonal festival Basant - characterised by flying of kites to mark the beginning of Spring - is yet another attraction not only for local tourists but also for those from abroad.